Originally posted on @bamboo.reads
For someone who loved FX's You're The Worst and Tony Tulathimutte's Private Citizens, another book about inherently unlikeable characters doing inherently problematic things sounds a lot like my cup of tea. However, Brandon Taylor's debut novel Real Life is more akin to Garth Greenwell's novels with a major difference that the solitude its protagonist feels is enhanced by navigating a society that perpetuates a devaluation of his race, doubled by carrying an unspeakable trauma that invades his present life. The narrative is as bleak as it sounds, without ever going the easier route of using humor or snark to shrug off the pain, as if to underline that some problems (societal or personal) need to be looked at deeper to the point where it isn't comfortable anymore, to find some semblance of grace. It's a well-trodden tale of an outcast looking for his place in a community, however different that may be from what he expects. But it also sneaks in a reminder that maybe it's our expectations of what people are in our lives that prevents us from being happy.
I didn't like the novel as much as I thought I would. I'm lucky that I've been surrounded by great friends all my life, so it takes a while for me to empathize with misanthropes (see also Noah Baumbach's Greenberg). However, if there's one thing that the events of the latter half of the 2010s taught us (from Trump to #METOO), it's to not discount the experiences of others just because we don't agree with them. Sometimes, telling the plainspoken truth the way this novel does, might just be what we need to survive.